SIMMONS: Leafs’ Kyle Dubas plays a dangerous guessing game on goaltender Matt Murray

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Kyle Dubas is betting his reputation, probably his job and possibly Auston Matthews’ future with the Maple Leafs on a lost goaltender.

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It’s not a good hockey deal – the trade for a shrinking asset named Matt Murray. It is to hope. It is guessing. It’s blind faith that a management team that showed little ability to make quality goalkeeping decisions finally got it right.

Maybe Murray, at 28, will go back in time and play like he did when he was 22 and 23 and winning the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Maybe he can find that place, that mental space, that physical health, that confidence that great goalies demand, but the odds, frankly, are stacked against him and the Leafs.

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How many players lose their way for more than four seasons, can’t necessarily be trusted, can’t live up to expectations, can’t stay healthy, then turn around in a tougher situation and rediscover their old form? Most often, this player looks like Petr Mrazek.

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Dubas thinks Murray is different.

Around the NHL right now, Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion is being quietly applauded at the executive level for his ability to get out of Murray’s contract. Or at least 75% of it. Money is everything in hockey these days. Cap space is king. Dorion traded for Murray and signed him long-term to Ottawa with the belief that he would be the Senators’ future safety net.

Instead, after two failed seasons, Dorion essentially paid the Leafs to take him. A team hoping to make the playoffs this season didn’t believe in Murray as a goaltender. A Stanley Cup-aspiring Leafs team — which will have to start with eventually winning a playoff round — welcomes Murray to the net.

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All this a year after the Carolina Hurricanes, a team with Stanley Cup hopes, never made an offer to Mrazek, who had played three seasons with them. They wanted better in goal. They let him walk to Toronto.

It was a free agent move. It’s a trade. Except, really, the Leafs didn’t have to give up anything significant. They just had to make sure Murray would agree to waive his no-trade clause. Buffalo tried to catch Murray, but the keeper refused. Murray was happy to reunite with Dubas, the general manager who had previously tried to replace him in junior hockey, and Sheldon Keefe, his former coach.

It’s a familiar environment for Murray.

A point of history to consider: Dubas was general manager of the Soo Greyhounds and made this club one of the best in the OHL. Until the start of the playoffs. A year with Murray in goal, they lost in the first round. The following year they lost in the second round. Dubas has never had a memorable playoff in junior hockey. And hasn’t had one in the NHL yet.

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When Dubas became general manager in Toronto, Freddie Andersen was his number one goaltender. This was inherited from Lou Lamoriello. When Andersen wasn’t healthy enough or didn’t have enough confidence, the Leafs let him walk in free agency. They replaced it with the combination of Jack Campbell and Mrazek. Mrazek was a disaster. Campbell was fine, then injured, then lost, then fine again. All in his first full season as a starting NHL goaltender.

The Leafs are basically letting him walk in free agency, not wanting to pay the $5 million for five seasons that Campbell can likely get in Edmonton. Instead, they’re getting two seasons from Murray, which isn’t as good as anything Andersen has brought in or really not necessarily at the level Campbell has played recently.

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Exactly what they will get from Murray will be determined at the start of next season. His health has been an issue for the past two seasons. Its consistency has been an issue. Last season he started horribly, got hot for about 11 games, went cold after that, suffered a concussion, was waived, sent to the minors and finished the season as a backup backup. Sometimes it still looks great. On time.

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Those who know Murray best have some confidence in his ability to make his way with the Leafs. They like that he has a Stanley Cup pedigree. They like that he knows what it’s like to play in a tight market. But he won those Cups in tandem with Marc-André Fleury in Pittsburgh, when he had to fight for the net, fight to stay in goal, knowing and living with the difficulty that he was never going to be more popular than Fleury, within the team or with the fans.

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After that, he started to overthink the game and overthink his place with the Penguins. The more he thought, the worse he played. He hasn’t regained the peace of mind he first had in Pittsburgh. But there are those in hockey who still believe that Murray thrives under pressure, thrives on fighting for his job, and maybe that will work in his favor in Toronto.

There’s not a lot of faith in Murray in the NHL. Detroit traded and signed Ville Husso from St. Louis to play base. The Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche left Darcy Kuemper on the free agent market and traded for Alexandar Georgiev of the New York Rangers. Fleury re-signed with Minnesota for a rather cheap $3.5 million a year when he could have done better elsewhere. Washington and Jersey made their plays as this game of musical chairs for goaltenders continued.

Dubas didn’t have Fleury or Kuemper or Husso or Georgiev. He didn’t keep Campbell. He got Murray, 68th in wins last season, 39th in save percentage, with his recent history of concussions, missed games and inconsistency.

General manager Dubas went to the goalkeeper buffet and found that the best dishes were either cold or missing.

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